Reading good fiction has become very strange and frustrating for me.
It is an affirmation and condemnation at the same time.
Generally, fiction I consider ‘good fiction’ tends to also be what I consider far, far better than my own writing. This may be some internal self-deprecation at work or my inability to separate myself from what I have written, but … I think most of all it is that I don’t seem to write like other people, so my writing is just … different. Better or worse, depending on personal opinions, but inherently merely different. Yet, when I read something by someone else and am drawn into the story, the characters, the highs and the lows, I seem unable to stop thinking about how much “better” the writing is than mine, how mine doesn’t look anything like theirs.
More than that, after having written a handful of books, I now see my own ideas reflected in other people’s work. When it was a friend from the writing group, it seemed eerie and then perhaps serendipity or synchronicity or some other such thing when idea after idea was mirrored from my book to hers and just written differently. Now I’ve been reading fiction again suddenly, and I’m seeing scenes I’ve written in these other books, idea after idea, just written in the style of this other author. And if it usually seems ‘better’ than the way I wrote it, is that bad?
In a way, it’s encouraging. That my writing is touching on these repeated ideas, and that other, published, successful books and authors share characteristics with me and mine. Perhaps my writing will resonate as strongly with readers as these works do with me.
On the other hand, I do so often feel that, when I read the way this other author has expressed a scene or a feeling or an idea, my expression of the same is but a poor reflection or shadow of what it could/should be. Or worse than that, it is on par with or not as effective (in my opinion) as what I did with the idea, but framed within a more effective story or of more impact because the characters involved are better developed than mine, or some other such thing where the work as a whole makes my own completed books pale in comparison, whether or not they have the shining ideas in them.
The book I’ve been reading this week is a lot about time travel, and there are so many little things, little references back to my books, so many scenes that are like mine polised and framed in a new story that it keeps occurring to me that perhaps I’ve written this book in the future, when I’m a better, more practiced, more experienced writer, and I’ve sent it back in time and had it published under a pseudonym. But there is so much detail here that seems like it could only have come from the life of the author… things that mirror her mini-bio on the back of the book, actually … which I simply don’t have the experiences to write. I would have to do significant research and extensive interviews to gather the subtle details she conveys easily by having been a part of these things personally.
Which is okay, I have some experiences of my own, but … when I hold them up next to these, they don’t seem worth writing about/through. And it isn’t ever the “fantastical” elements. Time travel, causality problems, these are easy for me. It’s the background stuff, details and locations and history and … people. I don’t know that I get my people written correctly, or imbue them with sufficient life. When I’m looking only at my own work, when I’ve been writing and editing my own stuff for ages and haven’t read anyone else’s work, my characters seem like exactly what I want them to be, and seem right. When I read other people’s fiction, their characters seem better.
But perhaps it’s all in my mind.
People who read my books sometimes report compulsively reading them long into the night because they get so involved. So maybe they’re really okay.
But some of these other books still seem better.